While we here at BestBeginnerMotorcycles are of the “All The Gear, All The Time” (ATGATT) school of thought, we also realize for the beginner motorcyclist, sometimes all the gear can be a little pricey. This is tripled when it comes to helmets, as not only are they the single most important piece of gear, they’re often also the most expensive piece of gear.
In terms of protection, a full-face helmet is by far the preferred option. When compared to half helmets or three-quarter helmets, the biggest area of additional protection is the jaw. As well, by having the chin bar across the front, it connects the lower sides of the helmet, adding in exponentially stronger helmet strength.
As such, for this 2022 list, we’ve done the research, asked the manufacturers and retailers, and even gone out and tried on a lot of helmets to find out which ones are the best you can get for under $500. Another great list: the best modular helmets under $500.
Might as well start out by hitting the top of the budget range, and the K6 is worth your full budget. This is a premium lid from a legendary brand, and it is definitely the lightweight on this list.
The AGV K6 Helmet is the culmination of all of AGV’s road helmet technology to create a single helmet for all riders. Its shell is comprised of carbon and aramid fibers for excellent protection and weight savings, and the moisture-wicking liner absorbs sweat to keep you comfortable on extended rides.
While some helmets are better suited for sportbikes vs touring bikes due to how the aero works with turbulent air, this helmet is designed with all riding styles and seating positions in mind minimizing any form of wind turbulence you may experience on your ride. If you require glasses while on your ride, this helmet perfectly accommodates that.
The face shield is well designed, easy to use with gloves, and is pin lock ready with the insert included with purchase. The only way you’ll be disappointed with this helmet is if it doesn’t fit.
Once again Scorpion delivers a helmet that packs a lot of features for the $$$.
First off the shell is a resin-infused TCT-U™ 3K carbon fiber construction, made in 3-Shell sizes for a precision fit. It is light as you would expect from carbon fiber, but still better than I expected with all the features.
Inside is the luxurious Kwikwick® III liner, plenty of room for speakers thanks to the deep cutouts, and the AirFit® inflation cheek pads. The EXO-ST1400 has a well-formed neck roll and combined with the chin curtain, helped to block out wind noise and keep drafts from creeping up. A lot of features are good, but only if they are well-executed, and in this case, Scorpion has done a good job. The ventilation is good, the internal visor is dark enough, and the helmet is comfortable for hours of riding. All of this adds up to a well-sorted helmet designed for sport and sport-touring riders.
To say that the ICON AirFlite helmet, in all its variations, is one of the rugged standards of less-expensive helmets is not pushing it too far. No matter if you have a first version or the latest version with the MIPS Jewel, it is just a good helmet for a good number of riders with intermediate oval-shaped heads.
What makes it stand out as one of the best in 2021 is that after a long time with just EPS foam, this 2021 edition now comes with MIPS, which stands for Multi-directional Impact Protection System. So what does it do? MIPS almost like a scaffolding inside the helmet, that allows the head to rotate a few millimeters before the helmet itself takes over. This small amount of motion is enough to act as a sort of shock absorber for the brain, giving it enough time to start to rotate before the full force of an impact is transferred through the helmet.
Combined with the injection-molded polycarbonate shell and multi-layer EPS foam, this helmet provides, for the price, excellent impact mitigation. On top of that, being part of the ICON Air-series of helmets, it has a lot of ventilation. Two top-mounted intakes feed a series of ventilation channels, while the chin air intake feeds both cooling air down the lower part of the helmet, while also feeding fresh air for the rider to breathe. All of that air is exhausted through two oversize exhausts below the rear mini-spoiler.
The visor is the only really controversial part of the helmet, as some like it, some hate it. The fact that you get a clear faceplate and a dark smoke faceplate in the box, as well as a fog-free drop-down sun visor inside the helmet, it just all adds up to make the $320 asking price seem a bargain. As well, the helmet is part of ICON’s “world certification program,” meaning it conforms to DOT 218 (US), ECE 22-05 (EU), and other certifications from around the world.
For the beginner riders that will be looking more towards the sports side of things, maybe even graduating into supersports down the road, this is the first helmet you will want to have. Sedici has two versions of the Strada II, with two important differences. What is not different is the construction of both, with proprietary fiberglass weaved in with aramid fibers creating a super strong, yet lightweight, shell. This is backed with dual-density EPS, with multiple ventilation channels.
The differences between the helmets are important, although one is quite minor, the other major. The minor difference is that the Strada II Solid features a drop-down sun visor, controlled by a slider on the lower left of the chinbar. This sun visor does not appear on the Strada II Primo. The reason for that, and the difference of major importance, is that the Strada II Primo is positioned as a track-ready helmet. As such, it carries the coveted Snell M2020 certification that many track schools or amateur racing events require helmets to have.
No matter which helmet you eventually do go for, rest assured that both have excellent ventilation, with a two-position chin vent, two crown vents with 3 positions each, and two venturi exhausts sucking all the hot air out the back of the helmet. The quick release visor (a clear one comes in the box) is pinlock ready for anti-fogging, and the lining and padding is fully removable and partially adjustable at the forehead and temples. The padding is hydradry, wicking moisture away from your face, and machine washable.
The Strada II Solid is DOT certified, while the Strada II Primo is Snell Foundation M2020 certified (the highest rating a US helmet can have).
Scorpion is entering 2022 swinging, with the EXO-T520 helmet releasing just this past month in October 2021. Part of the company’s well-known “trickle down” effect, the T520 incorporates all the best parts of the top-tier EXO-R1 and EXO-ST1400 helmets, but at an affordable price for most riders.
The shell shape is an aggressive but smooth swoop, feeding the aerodynamically tuned top ventilation ram-air intakes. The visor includes the Ellip-Tec II ratchet pull system from the higher end helmets, which pulls the visor back into the visor port gasket when fully closed. The helmet also features the innovative AirFit system from the EXO-R1 Air models, which ensure a tight but comfortable fit for every ride.
The Scorpion EXO-T520 is DOT and ECE 22.05 certified.
HJC is renowned for offering quality lids priced for excellent value. The RPHA 70 ST is exactly that helmet. This model has been available for a number of years now and continues to be a bestseller and recommended helmet on Revzilla.
The helmet uses P.I.M Plus (Premium Integrated Matrix Plus) technology which uses a blend of carbon fiber and carbon-glass hybrid fabric for the outer shell. On the inside, the RPHA features an anti-bacterial moisture-wicking liner with removable cheek and crown pads. The HJ-26 anti-fog shield can be swapped without tools, and a separate tinted sun-shield is also included. Airflow is certainly above average and overall noise levels at speed are below average, win-win.
Plenty of graphic choices can be found for just a small price bump, but overall this is a very solid choice if the budget must be less than $500.
The Shoei RF-1400 Helmet tickles just past the limit of pricing for this article. However, for the $529.99 you pay for it, you get all of the knowledge that Shoei has garnered over 50+ years and a helmet that takes the lessons learned from the RF-1200 to heart.
The helmet’s shell is made of multiple, interwoven layers of both fiberglass and organic fibers to make a supremely durable, yet exceptionally lightweight helmet. It is lined with dual-layer, multi-density EPS foam. The shell has spent hundreds if not thousands of hours in the wind tunnel, increasing the noise resistance over the already-quiet RF-1200.
Those same wind tunnel tests improved the shape of the helmet, reducing drag by 4% and lift by 6%. A new faceplate system, CWR-F2, replaces the original system, adding a 10% wider field of view as well as being Pinlock EVO compatible. It is also easier and quicker to switch shields out with the simple “pop out” mechanism when the faceplate is fully raised.
A chin curtain and breath guard come with the helmet, and it has achieved the latest Snell M2020 and DOT certifications.